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I am an undergraduate student in China. I am currently a junior, majoring at Mathematical Economics and Mathematical Finance. My goal is to apply to a graduate school in the U.S. to learn Finance or Financial Engineering.

What can I do now to better prepare myself for the forthcoming application? How can I leave a good impression on the Admissions Committee? Except for higher GPA, GRE, Toefl, what else also make sense? To win a competition? To publishing papers? Or abundant internship experiences?

I know that the website of each school lists some requirements about the applicants, but those words are too general. Obviously there will be so many applicants who meet those requirements. What else need I show make myself outstanding, making them believe I am a good candidate? I am really puzzled.

Edit

I just want to obtain a master degree.

I also want to know that among GPA, GRE, TOEFL, competitions, publishing papers(if possible), good credible recommendation letters, etc, which ones deserve prior attention. It is unlikely for me to be that "superman".

End of edit

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    Besides scientific and language preparations, I think you have to save lots of money, because graduate programs for these fields do not waive the tuition and usually do not offer scholarships. – user4511 Oct 4 '13 at 17:26
  • @VahidShirbisheh So I wish to be admitted into one of those top programs, which are worthy of the money. – ranky Oct 4 '13 at 17:49
  • Just some stories to share, I have two friends in the MFE program of CMU (one from NY campus and another one from Pit. Campus). One is from EE but she has lots of valuable internships (UBS e.g.) on finance. The other one is just like you, mathmatical economics field. Very high GRE score, many internships (although not very famous ones) – Sibbs Gambling Oct 5 '13 at 10:56
  • @perfectionm1ng Thank you for sharing. The MFE of CMU is exactly what I have been dreaming about. Could you provide more details on the applications and admissions of these two friends of yours? – ranky Oct 10 '13 at 8:53
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    I think this is the best written and most on target "how to get into grad school" question I have seen. – StrongBad Oct 25 '13 at 6:09
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Aeismail’s answer points out that you need to foster contacts with people who can write letters of recommendation testifying to your potential as a researcher.

This is a definitely a good answer. However, it is hard to get good credible recommendation letters in China. You need to have not only strong academic performance but also strong social background to get them. The same is true for internship opportunities. When there are more than a hundred applicants competing for 3 internships, the best 3 academic performers with the strongest social background will get them. (The population in China exceeds 1.3 billion).

My answer to the question. How can I leave a good impression on the Admissions Committee? Besides high GPA, GRE and TOEFL scores, (and possibly winning a competition, publishing papers, abundant internship experiences) and good credible recommendation letters, the only thing I can think of is an excellent Statement of Purpose.

Use that statement to convince the admissions committee why you’ll be an excellent student in their school. Why are you interested in finance or financial engineering? What have you learned in undergraduate school? What particular research program in that school you are interested? What do you hope you can learn from that school after you get the master degree from them? What do you plan to do after master degree? Etc.etc. Hopefully, they will be convinced by this statement and then accept you.

This is my 5 cents worth. I sincerely hope experts here who are currently in the admission committees can give us more and effective answers.

  • Thank you for sharing about SOP. However, some questions like "What do you hope you can learn from that school after you get the master degree from them; What do you plan to do after master degree" really confuse me. In Chinese undergraduate schools we rarely get advice on career plans especially if we want to go abroad. – ranky Oct 28 '13 at 16:22
  • You also made me come across another question, which I have added to my post. – ranky Oct 28 '13 at 16:37
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    @RenkeCai You need to figure out what to do and why you want to do them in the future by yourself. No one can help you with that. Don't study something because they are hot (fire in Chinese term). Your future is in your hands. I am afraid I can't help you too much there. You indicate in your user profile you're eager to learn math. If math is what you really like to do, then do math. Don't study financial engineering just because it's hot. Once you figure out why you want to study finance/FE, you'll know how to write your SoP. – scaaahu Oct 29 '13 at 3:39
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    As your additional sub-questions, I suggest you to ask another question. GPA, GRE, TOEFL and recommendation letters are all required when applying for admission. If the master program is research oriented, publishing papers is important. If the program is geared toward application in industry, internship is more important. You need to ask another question to get more details, otherwise your question could be closed for too many subquestions (not good fit for stack exchange). – scaaahu Oct 29 '13 at 6:10
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+50

Assuming you are applying to graduate schools for the purpose of obtaining a doctorate, the best thing that you can do to improve your chances is to foster contacts with people who can write letters of recommendation testifying to your potential as a researcher.

Awards and prizes are certainly nice, as are graduate coursework, internships, and other experience. But, ultimately, none of those might provide any insight on your capability to do research. Doing research with members of your faculty (or at other institutions) and getting letters of recommendation from them allows a graduate committee to feel that they're taking less of a risk in admitting you.

  • Thanks for your attention. But I just want to obtain a master degree. I know those programs are really different from PhD. – ranky Oct 25 '13 at 15:37
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    You didn't mention that in your question! However, getting good letters of recommendation is still important. The only difference is that they should be tailored toward your potential to be a good master's student in the field you're interested in studying! – aeismail Oct 25 '13 at 16:06
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One worthwhile strategy (I found when applying to graduate school) is to examine the public profiles of graduate students at the institutions you want to attend. Graduate students (especially senior ones) often post their CVs online, and it's a good way to get information about what their profile was like when they applied.

Note, however, that it is extremely rare for people to list things like their GRE scores on a CV. However, many programs list useful aggregate data about their classes (perhaps what you mean by "lists some requirements about the applicants"), but at least in the case of Berkeley/Haas' MFE Program, the information is very specific averages for standardized tests and even work experience/industry prior to entry. Keep in mind that those are the averages for their class, not the minimums for acceptance, so they're a reasonable target to try and hit.

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Since you already know the minimum requirements, I would recommend looking at the references being taught in the top Finance schools in the US. I have a friend who studied Finance in Europe and after coming to the US, he had to start studying another Master's in order to merge his knowledge to what is taught in the top Finance schools in the US.

Then you can write in your CV about the courses you have taken mentioning the references. Online courses, (e.g. from Coursera) are also very helpful for this purpose.

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